INTERVIEW: Indian badminton sensation PV Sindhu

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Standing out in a nation of more than one billion requires something special.

And when you call cricket-fixated India home, this task is made even stiffer if you excel with racquet rather than bat. Yet one magical summer has swept badminton’s PV Sindhu into the collective consciousness of the world’s second-most populous country.

An estimated television audience of 17.2 million tuned in past midnight to see the genial 21-year-old historically claim silver in defeat to Spain’s Carolina Marin during August’s Rio 2016 Olympics. This caused

India to tread new ground, making her both the first shuttler to reach a badminton final there and the youngest competitor to achieve a podium finish in an individual event.
A roaring reception amid streets lined with supporters in her native Hyderabad showcased the heightened attention. Not bad for an unfancied prospect, who had headed to Brazil as ninth seed.


Fast forward to this week’s season-ending Dubai World Superseries Finals, and Sindhu is a star attraction. A spot was earned in the elite event thanks to a fearsome late run of form which included a landmark triumph at last month’s prestigious China Open, her first Superseries trophy, and the runner-ups spot at the Hong Kong Open, while a following of more than 700,000 on Twitter points to new-found popularity.
Speaking to Sport360 at Hamdan Sports Complex prior to Wednesday’s debut where she rallied to beat Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi in Group B, this year’s recipient of the sport’s Most Improved Player reflected on an unforgettable spell which has caused her to be propelled, with haste, into the limelight.
PV Sindhu will her Olympic silver medal. PV Sindhu will her Olympic silver medal.
“Overall, this year has been fantastic for me,” Sindhu says. “I wish even the ending of the year will be fantastic.
“It has been really good after the Olympics. I simply had to focus on the tournaments which were coming so soon.
“After that, I won my first Superseries. Rating this year, it has been a wonderful year.
“It is a totally different feeling now. On the social media, everybody was congratulating me – including the big stars.
“When I went back to India, I never thought that huge crowd would be waiting. They were everywhere, small kids and everybody – it really touched my heart and I was so happy.”
In Rio, Sindhu showed notice of her intent with an energising 2-0 win against current World No1 Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei to enter the quarter-finals. Further whitewashes then followed against China’s Wang  Yihan and Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, prior to the showdown with Marin.
There, she was outclassed during an 83-minute contest which ended in a 2-1 loss, but left with prized metal and her name imprinted on Indian society.
“It was my dream, which has come true,” the current World No10 says. “It was really different, talking about the Olympics. After losing the final, I was upset. But my coach said to me it had been a fantastic week.”
Sporting success was almost pre-destined, with parents PV Ramana and P Vijaya both professional volleyballers. It was from them she gained the height which allows her to produce steep smashes and fearsome serves.

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Eschewing the chance to follow in their footsteps, Sindhu showed significant promise at badminton. With indefatigable spirit already in place, the quarter-finals of the 2010 Junior World Badminton Championships were reached prior to a notable victory at the 2012 Asia Youth Under-19 Championship.
Progress in the adults game was to follow. A total of four Grand Prix Golds crowns were claimed from 2013-15, with captaincy of Chennai Smashers in the 2016 Premier Badminton League detailing her advancement.
Sindhu declares she is “really, really, lucky” to have received such careful nurturing.
She says: “I started at the age of eight and a half. My dad and mum were volleyball players, with my dad getting a bronze medal with India at the Asian Games.
“Everybody asks me ‘why not volleyball?’. But it was my own interest to come into badminton, my parents encouraged me a lot. This was an advantage to me, because as sportspersons they know how they’ve come up in life. That way, they have really improved me all the time.
“Your parents’ support is the most-important thing in life. I am really, really lucky to have parents like them.”
Sindhu is part of a female sporting renaissance in her country. Tennis star Sania Mirza is currently ranked No1 in the women’s doubles rankings and made Time magazine’s 2016 list of the 100 most influential people because of her activism, while Dipa Karmakar followed in Sindhu’s footsteps by gaining India’s highest sporting honour – the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna – after she finished fourth in Rio as the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics.
“Comparatively, the support in India has been phenomenal,” Sindhu says. “I am really thankful to the government.

“We have been doing really well in a lot of sports now. In tennis, there is Sania Mirza and then gymnastics there is Dipa.
“Not everybody can get a medal. But it is great there are hundreds of people participating at the Olympics and that is the big thing for everybody.”
Signs China’s iron grip on badminton has started to slacken have appeared. Sindhu and Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen locked out the singles during last month’s exalted China Open, while the former-mentioned and Marin’s final at Rio represented the first time no Chinese had competed in the women’s showpiece for 20 years ago.
Sindhu is convinced this broader field is a positive development for the sport.
She adds: “It was just China before, but now there are many countries coming up – Chinese Taipei, Spain and South Korea.
“It is improving the sport and there is much more recognition. The sport is growing a lot.
“I think in the women’s game, the intensity has been improved a lot. There are also many youngsters, so it can improve even more.”
Another Chinese competitor is up next today, in Sun Yu.
This repeat of the 2016 China Open-decider represents a challenge Sindhu, in enthusiastic fashion, is ready to embrace.
She says: “It is my first time here, so I am looking forward to it. It will not be easy.
“She knows my game and I know her game. But this will be totally different.”


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Dubai World Superseries Finals Day One round-up

Sport360 staff 14/12/2016

The Women’s Singles Group B match saw Spain’s Marin stage a thrilling comeback, saving eight match points before her Chinese opponent regained her composure to close it out 21-18 24-22.

For most of the match, Marin was a shadow of herself as she plunged deeper and deeper in trouble against the big-hitting Sun. Unable to string a sequence of points and committing numerous errors, the Spaniard appeared to have given up the chase as she trailed 13-20 in the second.

A change came over her at this point. Marin was suddenly her old combative self once again, bursting with energy and hustling Sun into errors. The deficit disappeared as Marin ran up a sequence of eight straight points with a spell of high intensity to be on the verge of equalling the match.

Sun stemmed the breach with a 346 kph smash, and even though Marin saved another match point, the Chinese had the momentum once again on her side, winning the match after Marin sent a shuttle long. However with two group matches yet to play, Marin still has a chance to qualify for the semi-finals. In other matches in the same category, Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun eased past Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon 21-19 21-12, while 2014 champion Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) also enjoyed a quick victory over China’s He Bingjiao, 21-16 21-13.

Why hello there Olympics champion #CarolinaMarin! #BadmintonDubai

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“I had very little rest after the Korea Masters as I rushed to the airport straight from the stadium,” said Sung Ji Hyun, who won her home Grand Prix Gold title on Sunday. “I haven’t won a Superseries this year, so that’s motivation for me to do well here. Today was a good start. Hopefully I can continue to play at this level.” Mixed Doubles defending champions Chris Adcock and Gabrielle Adcock enjoyed a bright start to their campaign, winning their opening match in just 34 minutes. The England pair were never threatened by Japan’s Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara, who appeared to be off-rhythm the entire match as they fell 21-15 21-9. “We don’t feel the pressure of being defending champions,” said Gabrielle Adcock. “We know if we play as good as we can, we’ll do well. We had a good start today.” “It wasn’t as easy as it seemed,” said Chris Adcock. “Even though we were ahead, we had to keep our concentration. There weren’t too many rallies; it was a bit tense. We’re happy with the good start. We play a couple of young Chinese pairs in this group. We’re looking forward to getting on court as it’s always a challenge to play them.”

Is this one of the best match points you've ever seen? #BadmintonDubai

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Mixed Doubles saw Yonex All England winner Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto upset their senior compatriots Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir for the first time. The younger pair made it past the Olympic champions in Group A, 21-11 21-12. Men’s Doubles also saw an all-Indonesian battle, with three-time Superseries winners Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo/Marcus Fernaldi Gideon battling past Angga Pratama/Ricky Karanda Suwardi 21-18 17-21 21-14. Recent Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open champions Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda suffered an early setback in their Dubai campaign, falling 21-15 21-17 to Denmark’s Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pieler Kolding. Action in the BWF Dubai World Superseries Finals continues with the finals being played on Sunday 18 December. Tickets for the BWF Dubai World Superseries Finals are on sale at www.ticketmaster.ae - prices start from AED 25, with those under 18 years entering for free when accompanied by a ticketed adult. For more information about the event go to: http://www.dubaisuperseriesfinals.ae.

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Marin on life since Rio and looking ahead to Dubai

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A knee injury may have curtailed Carolina Marin’s preparations for the BWF World Superseries Finals but the world number one is determined to do what she can to win an elusive title in Dubai.

The 23-year-old, who clinched the Olympic gold medal in Rio in August, suffered a 18-21, 22-24 defeat to Sun Yu of China in the opening group stage match at Hamdan Sports Complex Wednesday.

The Spanish shuttler is yet to win a superseries title in 2016 and is bidding to end an injury-hit but memorable year on a high at the season-ending climax in the UAE.

Her success in Brazil has spearheaded the development of badminton in Spain, where peripheral sports struggle for funding behind football, basketball and tennis.
“I think we are growing and many people in Spain know about badminton now,” Marin told Sport360. “It’s impressive that many people want to follow it on TV. They want to know everything about me and what tournaments I’m going to play. They are really excited about badminton.”


With much of her training this year aimed at peaking for Rio, it’s been a difficult adjustment back to competition since September.
Having first sustained a knee injury four months ago, the Huelva-born star has been forced to play through the pain barrier somewhat after coming through the important stages of recovery.

“We had a little break (after the Olympics). I had to take care of my body in the last tournament. It was really painful so I want to take care of my body because it’s really important and I’ll try to do my best,” said Marin.
Despite the restrictions in her movement, Marin produced a string of sensational performances, reaching the semi-finals in Hong Kong and Denmark recently.
In Hong Kong, she forced a third set in her last four defeat to Tai Tzu-ying, but it was a display that should provide her with plenty of confidence if she is to have a real shot at glory on Dubai soil.
Marin may be out of the running to win the overall Destination Dubai title, but the two-time world champion has enough skill and resilience to reach the final if she beats Akane Yamaguchi and in-form PV Sindhu Thursday and Friday.
“Everyone wants to beat me. I’m the only European that has been top of the world rankings and it’s like I broke China or a nation wall,” added Marin.
“I want to enjoy every game and I will try to win here because it’s one of the tournaments that I’ve never won. It’s, of course, one of my goals.”


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